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Fashioning a digital leap for Australia


Is Australia a digital laggard?

It just might be, at least on one benchmark: labour productivity. An Australian worker today is only 84% as productive as his American counterpart, down from 92% in 1998, according to CSIRO’s Dr. Ian Oppermann.

Oppermann highlighted that stat as Australia’s national science agency unveiled a $40 million Digital Productivity and Services Flagship programme to help Australia rapidly transition from a resource-focussed country. The flagship, with Oppermann as director, will focus on the services sector and help optimise the full value of national broadband infrastructure.

“Australia is faced with the challenge of maintaining a competitive economic edge in an increasingly complex and resource-limited world,” Oppermann said. “The declining labour productivity over the past 12 years means Australia’s economic prospects beyond the current resources boom will deteriorate significantly if not reversed,” he added.

“A successful digital economy is essential for Australia’s economic growth and to maintain our international standing.  The services sector represents about 80%of Australia’s GDP, so if we are to help Australia grow, we must help businesses and government deliver services in new, faster and better ways,” he said.

The flagship proposes to initially focus on the following four key research areas:

  • Government services – develop efficient and effective information use, government services and systems
  • Commercial services – develop efficient and effective commercial services and systems, especially in financial services.
  • Smart, secure infrastructure – extending and securing Australia’s physical and cyber infrastructure, including the extension of wireless broadband services.
  • Health services – improving the safety, quality and efficiency of health services by delivering technology in partnership with all State Health Departments.

Oppermann said the program will not be conducted merely in labs. Most of it will happen out in businesses and departments across Australia, finding ways to apply technology to improve the way they deliver their services. He said the flagship would result in improvement in diverse things – from reducing wait times in hospitals to the way banks manage money.

The flagship was officially launched in Sydney on 29 January by Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.